Spring Ball Day 12: Defense stars, but loses Hamza

PULLMAN -- In 2003, the Cougars outscored their opponents 123-25 in the first quarter. If Saturday's scrimmage is any gauge, the 2004 offense looks like it too will be able to find the early groove. In the end, though, the defense reigned supreme. Unfortunately, a big injury in the secondary was incurred along the way.

The injury bug hit the Cougs hard on Saturday in the third scrimmage of the spring. It was a physical, pad-cracking affair.

Sarting free safety Hamza Abdullah suffered a fractured clavicle. Abdullah has become one of the leaders on the team, taking charge throughout the winter workouts and beyond.

We'll get to the rest of the injuries later, but first, the scrimmage.

Simulating an overtime situation, the offense began the day with the ball on the 25-yardline of the defense.

On the very first play, Josh Swogger immediately hit paydirt with a 25-yard scoring strike to Cody Boyd. The tight end made a nice adjustment—reaching behind his body and pulling it in with one hand before waltzing in for six. The 6-8, 240 pound sophomore later added a 34-yard reception from QB Alex Brink.

Boyd said he wants to be the go-to-guy on 3rd down and goal line situations this season, but is still working on finding his comfort zone, especially in certain situations. He wants to better know the full complement of plays out of every formation than he does to date—having missed a good portion of the Spring due to off-season shoulder surgery.

The Bellingham native went on to say because of the surgery, he's still working his way into gameday shape. Boyd was the leading receiver on the day with 2 catches for 59 yards.

On his very next pass attempt, Swogger tossed an eight-yard touchdown strike to sure-handed Marty Martin—a perfectly placed ball in the corner of the end zone reminiscent of Swogger's TD pass to Devard Darling against Arizona State last season. Two passes, two touchdowns, and the offense was looking good.

That's when the D tightened up. For the rest of his reps, they held Swogger to 4-12 passing for 39 yards. On the day, Swogs was 6-14, 72 yards, 2TDs.

Swogger said the offensive unit is headed in the right direction, and is anxious to have the full complement of receivers in order to execute to the offense's full potential. "In the fall you'll see what we have on offense, spring is not (necessarily) a very good indicator."

He went on to say it can be challenging coming into the huddle and seeing new faces time and time again, "It's hard to gel and get that chemistry that you need."

Next up, Alex Brink. Chris Bruhn took a screen pass from Brink and weaved in an out of defenders before being taken down just short of the marker. The senior running back had a nice day as a receiver out of the backfield, catching 4 balls for 25 yards.

The Woodland, CA product also turned in the only real rushing highlight of the day—a 15-yard dash out of the backfield when the offense started with their backs against the wall on the 4-yardline. Bruhn finished with 29 yards rushing on 8 carries – and 53 total yards on 12 touches.

RBs Allen Thompson and Kevin McCall, both of whom led the offense in last week's scrimmage, enjoyed no such success this time around. They finished the day with but 37 yards on 17 carries between the two of them. Twice the defense stuffed the run on 4th and 1 situations.

Brink showed off his fancy footwork again Saturday, scrambling to move the chains and later executing on a play-action bootleg to earn another set of downs. The 6-2 RS freshman from Eugene finished with 29 yards rushing and went 11-20 for 83 yards through the air.

The speedy freshman was not the only QB showing quick feet today. Swogger, more the classic pocket-passer, stiff-armed a would-be tackler on his way to converting a 3rd and 6, drawing hearty cheers from offensive teammates.

Because Swogger stands in the pocket with guys flying all around him, some may not realize just how good a runner he is—Swogs has some wheels and he has some moves. He just hasn't shown them all that often.. yet.

Of Swogger and Brink, coach Bill Doba said, "The two are a great change of pace, Swogger is old-style drop-back type, and Alex gets in there and scrambles."

Mike Reilly continued to produce, connecting on 7 of 9 for 46 yards. The walk-on freshman was also forced out of the pocket a couple of times and reacted well. Reilly is now 22-29 for 195 this spring with a touchdown and an interception.

In the face of a strong pass rush coupled with a "roadblock" mentality to the run game, many quarterbacks might become gun-shy. That was not in evidence Saturday nor has it been the case this Spring. "When you're out there running you can't be afraid to take a hit," Brink said.

Doba acknowledged the offense's early spark, but would like to see a more consistent performance out of the unit. And as well as the defense performed Saturday, Doba also cited the D's mental lapses during the two-hour session.

AFTER THE FIRST couple of series, the ineffectiveness of the offense was largely due to the clamps put on by the defense. Junior Adam Braidwood and sophomore Mkristo Bruce each broke though for a sack today. These were truly sacks—Saturday was the first day of full contact for the quarterbacks, who traded in their yellow jerseys for crimson ones to match their teammates on offense.

The defense also managed a few turnovers, something they were well known for a year ago when they lead the nation in takeaways.

Sophomore LB Brian Hall forced a Chris Hurd fumble, while senior Pat Bennett picked off a Brink pass and returned it 39 yards, evoking shades of the linebacker's INT—also for 39 yards—against Andrew Walter and ASU last season.

With (Hamza) Abdullah out for the rest of spring with the collarbone fracture, senior SS Jeremy Bohannon said he fully plans on stepping up his level of play.

Bohannon's goals include continuing the high level of success established on the Palouse these past three seasons. He also has firmly in mind a desire to instill in the underclassmen the winning tradition—and all that entails—for when after he's graduated.

He then ticked off quite a list as he gave credit to his mentors; Lamont Thompson, Billy Newman, Marcus Trufant, Eric Coleman, Virgil Williams. Raises the question, could Quarterback-U also turn into Defensive back-U?

THE OFFENSIVE LINE fell victim to injuries and penalties for a portion of Saturday's scrimmage. Making matters worse for the big skill players, the calls against them came at costly intervals. For example, Brink scrambled out of the pocket shedding a would-be tackler for a long gain that was negated because of a holding call.

In all, there was three holding calls that erased decent gains and three false start penalties. Two guards, Senior Patrick Afif and freshman Bobby Byrd, sat out today's scrimmage.

The defense committed a couple of costly penalties themselves—two 3rd down pass interference calls gave the offense a fresh set of downs.

Senior tackle Calvin Armstrong said he wants to see the offensive line play more consistently—and it will help when the line can get over the injuries in order to work out the kinks. Currently, the o-linemen are learning Coach George Yarno's new snap count, something Armstrong said will give the offense the advantage of getting off the ball quicker.

The 6-7, 311 pound tackle has made it a personal goal to lead the offensive line this season. "Other guys are going to look up to me, to what I've done in the past and what I'm going to do in the future," Armstrong said, "I lead by action."

ONE DAY AFTER nailing a pair of 57-yarders in the cold, Kicker Graham Siderius was 3-4 on Saturday, drilling FG attempts from 41, 40, and 35 yards, while missing a second from 35 yards out.

INJURY UPDATE Hamza Abdullah -- broken collarbone... Pat Bennett -- ankle sprain...Steve Cook -- dislocated thumb...Trandon Harvey -- re-aggravated hamstring injury... Chris Hurd -- hand bruise.

AS HEARD IN CHAT: Defensive coordinator Robb Akey told CF.C members in a Thursday chat session that RS freshman Paul Stevens, who was the No. 2 MLB behind Will Derting, has moved from middle ‘backer to defensive end.

"Paul Stevens is doing great and we are giving him a look at DE right now. He had a good practice (Wednesday), his first at that spot. He will be a good football player for us," Akey said.

OVERALL, DOBA HAS liked what he's seen to this point. "We still need practice and there are still a lot of things we need to fine tune, but the energy has been good throughout the spring. I credit the leadership on this team for that."

Doba further said he would be very glad when the Crimson & Gray game is over, because after today's scrimmage his team is suddenly a little banged up.

The Cougars hold their final two spring practices this coming Tuesday and Friday in preparation for the annual Crimson & Gray Game next Saturday, April 17 at 1 p.m.

Chris Hurd is in all likelihood out for the rest of Spring with the hand injury. With Hurd sidelined, Doba said the starting quarterback spot looks to be between Swogger and Brink at this point.

Cougfan Top Stories